We had the good fortune of connecting with Hannah Fraser and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Hannah, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I didn’t start off thinking my career would be about risk. It started off with a love of swimming and creating fantasy art. come to life. While enjoying these magical ocean adventures, I began to see the degradation of the beaches, the loss of coral reefs I had visited, and the accumulation of pollution and trash in the ocean. I realized it’s all going to disappear if we don’t take action. That meant taking risks. The risk to speak my mind against corporations, powerful individuals, and on social platforms. The risk to turn down work that didn’t align with my ethics on captured animals. The risk to put myself in harm’s way to protest the killing… and ultimately, to risk my life swimming with the most feared animals in the ocean to try to protect them.

When I look back, I see that I have embraced risk all along the way. It was a risk to follow my dreams to create an artistic life when society says I should have been looking for a ‘real’ job. I traveled to remote and unusual locations around the globe to meet strangers who held my life in their hands as we dove beneath the waves. I faced off fishermen who were slaughtering dolphins in front of my eyes, and I weighted myself 35ft below the surface at midnight in strong swell to make a video to help save manta rays from being killed.

People often ask me why on earth I would swim with such dangerous creatures such as sharks. I find them to be intriguing, awe inspiring, magnificent and beautiful in their own way. I accept that they are one of the world’s most dangerous predators but I also have found that they are not mindless monsters just waiting for me to dip my tail in the ocean to suddenly attack me. They are wary, clever, and intelligent creatures. If you treat them with respect, know their behaviors, be very careful and occasionally show them who’s boss.. then you can be lucky enough to swim with them and stay in one piece. I scared off a 14-foot great white shark, so whenever I’m faced with scary situations in life, I remember that and think.. ‘I can handle ANYTHING!’

Swimming with giant behemoths of the ocean is exhilarating! But when I take that kind of intense risk, I only do it if there is a bigger reason than my ego needing to prove something to myself. So I’ve only embarked upon those adventures when I can justify the interaction being really beneficial to animals and humanity.

I have lived my life unapologetically, taking risks in my personal and professional life. But those risks are a push towards being the best I can be, to inspire, uplift, educate and grow, and expand!

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My passion began with hand-drawing mermaid art, then seeing the film “Splash’ at age 9, I made my first tail so that I could become my art in real life.

Many years later, I began creating Hi-end artistic tails, each one taking over 6 months of painstaking work, hand sewing thousands of tiny scales to complete the realistic sparkling effect. They are beautiful, elaborate, yet fully functional underwater, and enable me to swim fast using the monofin tail as propulsion.

I have been performing as a mermaid since 2003, and to my knowledge, I was the first person to make a full-time career out of being a freelance professional mermaid. Creating a career that fits into my passion rather than trying to fit into an existing career path hasn’t been easy, but endlessly rewarding.

I moved to Los Angeles in 2010 to fully explore my passion, and make the most of my career in a place where there are many creative people with a lot of motivation! I have worked in many of the world’s top aquariums, performed at large-scale events, and been featured in photo shoots, campaigns, and short films for many large companies and creative ventures. I have swum with great white sharks, whales, dolphins, manta rays, stingrays, turtles, seals, and a wide variety of other sea life.

When I first got into ocean activism, I just wanted to tell everyone about all the terrible things happening, all the time. People around me — while they appreciated my efforts — they didn’t really want to look at it. It’s a hard world to live in, and what we’d rather do is try to find beauty, love and happiness. So I had to figure how to turn these hard lessons and challenges that we’re facing into beauty that inspires people to action.

Images of inspiration and connection have been much more successful than hitting people over the head with guilt and shame, and they’ve done just as much to wake people up to the issues.

If you are lucky enough to have a voice that people listen to, you’re obligated to do whatever you can to use that voice for positive change. I don’t really see it as a choice, more as a blessing and a gift to be able to stand up and have my voice heard.

I hope that by seeing a real-life mermaid, people will connect that vision to what is really happening in the ocean. I hope they’ll start to see themselves as part of that symbiotic relationship rather than it being this very divorced idea — a little icon on a tin from the supermarket.

I helped organize and participated in the surfers paddle out into the bloody waters of the Taiji cove where dolphins are being slaughtered and captured for 6 months of every year.
The fishermen were very angry at being filmed doing these violent acts and began to attack us with long fishing sticks, and push their boat propellors against our legs.

We held a circle for 20 minutes while the remaining live dolphins squealed and spy hopped, looking at us and moving towards us as if they knew we were there to help. We were unable to free any of them as the cove was roped off by fishermen. Eventually the police were on their way to arrest us, and we had to leave. All of the dolphins were slaughtered, except a few young ones which are sold into slavery for dolhinariums around the world.

The footage we captured was televised worldwide and featured in the academy award winning film, The Cove. Millions of people become aware of the issue. This was instrumental in getting mercury laden dolphin meat taken off the supermarket shelves and out of the government funded school lunch program! However the killing continues!

What I want to do is inspire radical creativity — that’s what’s needed here. Fantasy and imagination can be the source of innovation and solutions.

I went from making a living, to living my dreams when I found a way to use my passion to benefit the world. Passion connected with purpose has been a winning formula!
We are part of a new paradigm of creativity fueling global change, through inspirational media.
The symbol of the mermaid is an icon for humans meeting nature halfway to create a more symbiotic relationship with the planet.

Here are some stories that have shaped and molded my passion for the ocean:

We were swimming way out in the open ocean, the gorgeous rays of sunlight shooting down into the endless depths of the ocean and finally i saw a massive whale coming up right underneath me, and I suddenly realized I was the size of an ant to this creature! Would I fall into its mouth or blowhole, because it didn’t even notice me? However, it was amazing how conscious it was of me, and how careful it was of it’s enormous size compared to me. I could feel intelligence emanating from it, and the look in it’s eyes was full of consciousness and interest.

Then a baby whale appeared and began to play with me.. twisting and turning right next to me.. just out of reach! It had only been born recently into the world.. but was already the size of a bus! The whales started singing to each other. It was mindblowing. The mother’s song was so deep and so rumbly and the baby whale was singing in such high-pitched trumpeting notes, it was like standing in front of a huge speaker stack. It was phenomenal, reverberating through every cell in my body.

As we were driving back in the boat there was another young whale that kept up with our boat and kept breaching, jumping, leaping out of the water, so full of this joy to be alive, until it couldn’t jump anymore. It was beyond amazing.
I knew at that moment that I would put my life on the line to protect these creatures. I felt so grateful that even after hundreds of years of humans decimating their species, they’re still so curious, interactive and joyful.

I was on a stinky old fishing trawler off Guadalupe Island in Mexico, The experience was phenomenal, amazing, an incredible opportunity to totally face all of my fears. Although I’d been swimming as a mermaid for quite a few years I’d never seen a shark, and of course that’s the first question everyone asks: Aren’t you afraid of sharks? And I was always replied, Well, yeah, but thats not going to stop me from following my passion!

When the opportunity to swim with the Great White sharks was offered, I thought ‘Well this is the moment if you want to be a REAL mermaid!’ I literally threw myself in the deep end, and as far as I know, I was the first mermaid to ever be filmed swimming with great white sharks in the wild, with no cage, wearing a tail, breath-holding, with no safety gear!

The scientists who were accompanying us on the trip were very interested in how the sharks reacted to me, suggesting; ‘We believe that the sharks are so intelligent that they can identify the difference between a human and a fish, even if you’re dressed like dinner! So that was our premise for the TV program. And it was very interesting. I don’t think the sharks reacted any differently to me than they did to the scuba guys, and I believe they could tell that I was not a fish or a seal (which was their usual food source) I came to feel a new kind of respect for these prehistoric predators, and tapped into intelligence within the sharks that I hadn’t previously thought existed.
I wasn’t always this fearless. But the more I learn about the animals I swim with, the more awe and respect I feel towards them. Being able to predict their movement patterns helps as well.

But that doesn’t mean they weren’t curious. And the only way they can check you out is to have a little nibble!!! So regardless of the fact of whether they can identify you as a fish or not, the danger factor is still completely there.

When I first got onto the boat I said, Well first off who’s the medic onboard? We’re in the middle of nowhere, we’ve traveled hours and hours on little tiny planes and boats to the middle of nowhere…Who’s the medic on board in case anything goes wrong?’ And the guy who was running the show said, ‘Uhhh I think we have a first aid kit on board somewhere.’ Right, I thought. I’m really in the deep end here with some cowboys.

So I’m out in the open ocean, I’m holding my breath, in a tail with my legs bound together and with no cage, and I asked, ‘What happens if a shark comes at me and I feel like it’s gonna eat me? …and they said, ‘Well, they’re just like wild dogs, you just have to show them who’s boss. Just don’t turn tail and run away, because then all its predatory instincts will be aroused. Just show them who’s boss!’ And I’m thinking, ‘Are you kidding me??? How am I going to do that, let alone even remember to do that in a moment when a great white shark is coming at me?’

Now, the theory was that there were going to be guys with spear guns around me for safety, but the reality was I’m so much faster in my tail than anyone else, especially when they have dive gear on, and to get the best photo, I have to be out in the open ocean away from the dive guys, alone with the sharks!

So I take off, I’m swimming right out there in the ocean, they’re all way behind me, and this shark starts coming directly at me. And I had the experience of everything slowing down to that one drawn-out moment in time, and my brain was going a million miles an hour and I thought, Okay this is that moment that I was asking about. What am I gonna do? That’s right I have to show it who’s boss.

So I put my arms out wide and started screaming under the water and swimming directly at it. I was actually yelling, ‘Come on!! I’ll take you ON!!’ But of course, it just sounded more like, “blup blup blup”. And the shark just veered off course, changed direction, and took off!
I acted in a way that was not dinner, so the shark just turned around and took off.
It’s a dangerous job. No way around it. All you can do is learn as much as you possibly can, have all of your scenarios worked out, understand the animals that you’re working with to the best of your ability, and don’t make silly mistakes!

The video shoot in the Bahamas aptly named ‘TIGRESS’ was part of a campaign to protect sharks; to do that, I swam with some of the most feared animals in the ocean: Tiger Sharks.

I had experience swimming with sharks, but not this variety. Tiger sharks are massive and have been known to attack humans. I had yet to encounter one up close. To prepare, I spent the weeks prior to the shoot free-dive training, exercising and working on holding my breath. I also had to meditate and learn to keep calm under extreme pressure. Film director Shawn Heinrichs and I had done our research on how to interact with sharks in a “relatively safe” way. Still, I admit to having a lot of fear going into the shoot.

On the ocean floor with tiger sharks moving around me, though, it turned into an empowering, awesome experience.

They are like big hound dogs sniffing along the bottom of the ocean, sliding right past me as I trailed my fingers along their muscular bodies. If you give them a tickle on the nose, their eyes roll back in their heads like they are really enjoying it, and they would do a big circle and come back for more. At no point did I feel like they were interested in eating me or that I was in danger. You can’t flip out. You can’t make a big commotion. You have to monitor the way that you move so as not to startle them or make them think that you might be prey.

The resulting video, “Tigress Shark,” was released in 2014 as part of a response to a shark cull in Australia, a government-mandated reaction to a previous shark attack. My belief is that we should not be killing sharks, we should be educating humans about entering their world, and changing the fishing practices so that we’re not annihilating their food source. The video was seen over by over 50 million people the first day it was released online and on news networks and the interest helped gain 12,000 signatures on a petition to end the shark cull.

This shoot was the most physically demanding experience of my career. I spent 6 days on the boat with a film crew going through two-hour body paint sessions in the midst of gusty winds before each dive into the ocean. It was hard on my back and my eyes and I ended up with an ear infection. At one point, I thought I couldn’t go through with it anymore.

I was so bone-chillingly cold each time I came up from the depths. The crew would set to work trying to release me from all the costume pieces so I could get warm.. The super-long tangled wig had to be unpinned, the contact lenses had to be taken out by someone else who wasn’t shivering so hard because I couldn’t control my fingers well enough. The weighted boots had to be unlaced and the costume had to be removed.

As soon as I was free, I would scamper into the engine room. It stunk of fuel and wet moldy things… but it was the warmest place on the boat. When the shivers died down and the smell of fumes was more nauseating than warm, I would finally crawl out of the boat hatch. The crew re-named me ‘The Blue Monster Smurf in the Engine Room’

I remember laying on my tiny bunk bed, the endless choppy water rocking me back and forth uncomfortably on the too-thin mattress, with a sharp pain in the back of my ribs. Each breath felt like a spear was jabbing me in the lungs. The 4 day old waterproof blue paint covering my whole body had given me hives, because we found out on the first day that it would take buckets of alcohol, and painful scrubbing for 3 hours to get it all off, just put it back on again the next morning. So I was blue for the entire week! I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and yet… I was still willing to get back in the water! The experience of being with those animals was exhilerating!

One of the first animal encounters I ever had underwater was with a manta ray. I was swimming upside down underneath its huge wingspan, blowing bubbles up onto its belly, which it seemed to love.

Sadly, global manta populations have been ravaged over recent years due, in part, to demand from the Chinese medicine market, and as an alternative to the dwindling supply of Shark fins for soup. We have decimated shark populations and now we have begun to annihilate the Manta families!

We had to shoot very late at night in Kona, Hawaii, after all the other Manta tour boats had left the scene. Just as I was truly wishing for bed and warmth, at around midnight, I would put on a full face of makeup, don a skimpy costume, and get in the chilly water, clinging to the arm of my safety diver for air and security, and we would descend into the inky darkness. I couldn’t suppress the shivers that ran through me, from cold.. but also from fear. It’s unnatural enough to be far below the water’s surface, far from life-giving air.. but to do it in the dark, without a face mask to be able to see beyond the watery blur, no way to ascend safely myself, and completely reliant on someone else to bring me air.. well, I began to doubt my sanity at that point! But the thought that this could help shine a light on the plight facing the mantas gave me the strength to face the darkness.

So there I was on the bottom of the ocean, freezing cold, weighted down with 50lb tied to my ankle, continually pushed onto sharp rocks by strong currents, holding my breath in the darkness, with viper eels wrapping around my legs… and then the mantas showed up, and began dancing inches from my fingertips! The connection was undeniable!

With my blurry underwater vision, I couldn’t see my team of photographers and safety divers around me. All I could see was these giant aliens gliding and somersaulting through the lights shing through the water. It felt like a scene from the sci fi films ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. or ‘The Abyss’. I was dwarfed by these unknowable, advanced, sentient beings who were dancing in their element, while I stole precious moments during breath holds and impossibly challenging physical circumstances.

They had no fear of me… if I stayed in my state of relaxation and grace. If I flailed or freaked out, they would disappear with the flap of one giant wingtip.

We released the short film ‘Mantas Last Dance’, and the film went viral worldwide! People who had never even known these creatures existed were now campaigning for their safety! In addition to becoming photo art, the images were used in a conservation video campaign that helped motivate CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to list Manta Rays for international protection in 2013, garnering more votes than any other animal, land or sea.


In another world first, I also choreographed a ballroom dance set 30 feet deep on the ocean floor at night with French Candian model David Langlois and the graceful Mobula Rays, a harmless family of rays now under severe threat by unsustainable trade in their body parts.

We encountered a lot of challenges with this shoot. Upon arriving in La Paz, we were welcomed by a Category 2 Hurricane whose path went directly over us! We had no choice but to button down the hatches and wait out the storm. When we were finally able to shoot, the water was really cold and we were shivering before we even touched down on the ocean floor. The intense cold had a significant impact on our breath-hold ability and severely limited our bottom time.

Though the massive quantity of tiny shrimp in the water served to attract over 100 Mobula Rays, it also drastically reduced water clarity, and the shrimp had a propensity to crawl into our ears, eyes & noses. To add to the unusual risks, fireworms (creepy crawly underwater centipedes that shoot painful spikes) joined the fray, along with poisonous pufferfish, and camouflaged stingrays!

Despite the most intense working conditions, I was able to find total freedom and surrender in this underwater dance. Meeting these animals is like having a close encounter with the most graceful beautiful aliens. They seemed to flow with me and interact when I danced.

Shawn Heinrichs filmed the incredible feat in Mexico and created the short film ‘Dance with Devil Rays’ to also help get these mini-mantas on the U.N. protected list.

I feel incredibly lucky that I have a talent that allows me a voice to be able to speak for causes and issues that I feel strongly about. This is the part of my job that gives me the most satisfaction, where I feel like I can be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Huntington Gardens Gracias Madre Cafe – West Hollywood
Descanso Gardens – when they put on the annual light installations
Venice Beach Sunday Sunset Ecstatic Dance events
Cafe Gratitude – Larchmont Ave
Flore Cafe – Silverlake
ArcLight Cinema – Hollywood

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I endorse Blue Sphere Foundation, Oceania project, Sea Shepherd, Save Japan Dolphins, Mermaids for Sanctuaries, Mission of Mermaids, and Surfers for Cetaceans. I work closely with Shawn Heinrichs to showcase Inspiration over Devastation, using art to illustrate the ways in which we can live in harmony with nature.
I count myself incredibly lucky to have a mother that taught me art, work ethic, perseverance, and gave me training in Yoga, Meditation and Breathwork, all of which empowered me to have the unique tools suited to my career.

Website: www.hannahmermaid.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hannahmermaid

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hannah-fraser-5030246/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hannahmermaid

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HannahMermaid

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/hannahfraser

Other: https://www.etsy.com/shop/HannahMermaid

Image Credits
Nahara Visualize Alicia Ward Shawn Heinrichs David Benz

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